Turk’s Cap Lily

Lilium superbum
Friday, July 22, 2011

              The Turk’s cap lily is the largest native lily in the east, and one of the most impressive wildflowers to occur around Mountain Lake. These native plants can reach the height of 3 m (10 ft) and can bear more than forty flowers at once. The stem of the lily is fleshy, stout and smooth. The lanceolate leaves, which occur in whorls along the stem, can reach 18 cm (7 in) in length and are often 2.5 cm wide. Although they rarely exceed 9, as many as twenty leaves may be found in one whorl. Towards the top of the stem, the leaves tend to occur in pairs or alternately. At the apex of the plant, stalks 10-20 cm long branch upwards and outwards from the main stem. The flowers, which occur at the ends of those stalks, are usually 8-10 cm across. They have six regular parts, or tepals (the term for when the petals and the sepals cannot be differentiated and appear identical). The tepals are yellowish-orange or green near the base of the flower but become a bright, showy orange color as the petals curve up and away from the base. The conspicuous stamens are exerted from the base of the flower and tipped by blackish or reddish anthers. They surround a long whitish stigma which tends to curl up towards the end.

           These plants, which are most recognizable in their blooming state, bloom in mid-summer for about a month. They are pollinated by a variety of butterflies and other daytime insects. When the oblong seedpod matures, the seeds packed inside are thin and papery and can be spread by gusts of wind. The rootstock consists of a white bulb which is known to be edible.

           Unlike many other plants which bear a common name including “lily,” the Turk’s cap lily is a member of the family Liliaceae, or true lilies. This plant is most commonly found in moist areas or slopes in the open shade. It occurs in most eastern states, as far north as New York and west to Arkansas. However, it is by no means a common flower throughout its range and is listed as “endangered” or “threatened” in several states.

           This specimen was collected in the enclosure beside the pumphouse. They are particularly vulnerable to deer herbivory and consequently will be mainly found in protected or inaccessible areas.

Hazel Galloway